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Deron Marquez is the co-founder of the Tribal Administration Program at Claremont Graduate University. He is a former chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Keely Marquez is a University of Arizona undergraduate researcher and policy analyst working on issues related to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Ted Gover is director of the Tribal Administration Program.
The United States has yet to deal adequately with the crisis of the vast numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in our country. This week, for the first time since 2016, the White House Tribal Nations Summit is being held, providing tribal leaders an opportunity to address how to fight the epidemic of abuse against Native American women and girls with President Joe Biden and members of his administration.
According to a 2016 study funded by the National Institute of Justice, more than 1.5 million American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence during their lifetimes, 84.3 percent of that population. Within this group, 56.1 percent have suffered from sexual violence and 55.5 percent have experienced physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Indigenous women are 1.2 times as likely as non-Hispanic white women to have suffered from violence.
Nationwide, approximately 2,700 cases of murder and negligent homicide offenses involving Indigenous victims have been reported to the federal government’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Roughly 1,500 missing American Indians and Alaska Natives are shown in the National Crime Information Center’s records, and the Urban Indian Health Institute found that more than 5,700 Indigenous women and girls went missing in 2016 alone. Record keeping of these cases is haphazard and often afflicted with biases.
Understandably, one can feel overwhelmed by these egregious numbers.
There have been some recent steps in the right direction. Last year Congress passed the Not Invisible Act, which is tasked with enhancing coordination within the government to identify and fight violent crime against Native Americans.
In April, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland formed a Missing & Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services. This unit will provide direction on interagency and cross-departmental work related to missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Despite these efforts, a crisis of this magnitude requires many additional measures to significantly combat the problem. Here are practices and policies that need to be carried out:
Enhance information sharing and crime database access among federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement.
Strengthen standards for tracking and for working across jurisdictions to help find missing Indigenous persons. Providing more information and training on how to use the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act, which makes federally recognized tribes eligible for AMBER Alert grants and integrates regional AMBER Alert communication plans with tribes across the nation, is one path to consider.
Improve websites for the reporting of missing Indigenous persons. The website used by the Blackfeet Nation and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in Montana would be a good prototype.
Create more Indigenous-based domestic violence shelters that provide prompt, culturally appropriate support to victims. Current needs are unmet as there are only 58 Native domestic violence shelters in the United States.
Establish public education campaigns for non-Native communities geared toward heightening awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Create clear, uniform standards for the filing of police reports for missing persons to allow victims’ families better access to state and federal compensation funds. Too often, families are unable to receive these funds due to inconsistencies in the filing of these reports.
Provide additional accreditation for tribal police and local, state and federal law enforcement agencies that regularly work cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Training should include instruction in tribal sovereignty, cultural awareness and missing Indigenous women and girls issues. Increased recruitment of Native Americans for law enforcement positions across jurisdictions would also help.
Addressing the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls requires sustained efforts and commitments across multiple jurisdictions, as well as support from nonprofits, institutions of learning, businesses, faith-based organizations and the broader public. Above all, it requires direction and backing from America’s elected representatives.
Our missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls deserve the focus and resources they’ve never been given.